The Pope And Islam: Here We Go Again

Another teachable moment squandered; another round of irony and hypocrisy displayed.

Granted, if you’re the Pope, you think thrice about saying anything about Islam that could conceivably make matters worse. Which can be confining and which basically precludes criticism — especially if it references, say, VIOLENCE. Even if it’s in the context of a Medieval quote.

For those who cherry pick the Koran, it’s hardly a quantum leap to be selective in what they take from a long lecture by that former academic theologian, Joseph Alois Ratzinger. The Pope’s greater messages were the dangers of secularism in the Christian West, the need to know God better and a call for religious dialogue.

But Benedict XVI is known to be a hardliner and no fan of fanaticism, notably the kind that uses religion to justify terrorism. He doesn’t always pull his rhetorical punches.

Not exactly inching out on a theological limb, the Pope noted that “Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul.” Oops. For good measure, he also decried holy wars and forced conversions, which have been pretty much discredited for more than a millennium.

But the zinger was bringing that Byzantine quote machine, Emperor Manuel II Paleologus, into the discourse. In a 14th century dialogue with a Persian scholar, MIIP seemed to be playing the devil’s advocate, if you will. “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new,” he is said to have said, “and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

Oops. Big Time.

We all know what can happen as a result of an offending Danish cartoon, Dutch film or Indian best seller. So the fanaticism hit the fan again.

The predictable overreaction – street protests, burning Benedict effigies, some church fire bombings, the murder of a nun — was quick, thanks to the internet and major Arab television networks. Among the ironic, hypocritical retorts, this one by the Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization of Sunni Arab extremist groups that includes al-Qaeda in Iraq. “

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